24 April 2018

The Guern­sey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society - a wonderful film

Britain’s Channel Islands (pop 160,000) are self-governing crown depend­en­cies, off the French coast of Normandy. They comp­rise two separate self-governing bailiwicks: Guernsey and Jersey.

In 1940 a German in­vas­ion of Britain was possible, but an invasion of the Channel Islands was inevitable. The Germans had to protect their expansion into France from its western flank. And since de­fending the Channel Islands was thought to be impossible, the Brit­ish Government could only make evac­uat­ion plans. In June 1940 Whitehall sent enough ships to the islands to allow anyone to leave voluntarily.

German soldiers who invaded the Channel Islands
in June 1940 and took them over until May 1945.

The Germans invested a fortune into these four small, sparsely pop­ul­ated islands because militarily they were in an ideal location, half way bet­ween Britain and Fran­ce. In June 1940, German bombers over the Islands bombed the harbours, killing dozens of islanders. Two days later Ger­man planes landed in Guernsey and met no resis­t­ance. Thus began the only wartime occup­at­ion of the British Isles by Nazi Germany with their fighting force of 28,000 soldiers.

British Channel Island authorities coop­erated and largely ad­minist­ered much of the new legislation, handing over control to the German authorities. Film Director Mike Newell noted that German occupation involved everyday misery. They took the pigs away, they took the radios away, they made the locals talk in German. They made them drive on the right-hand side of the road. Islanders were miserable but out of this some funny stories emerged.

Juliet promoting her book
at different meetings around the country.

And there were tragedies. Which locals coll­aborated with the Germans in discovering who was Jewish? Which locals were helping Polish and Russian POWs escape the German death camps in the Channel Islands? Which women were sleeping with German soldiers for extra food?

Starvation was widespread. Only in Dec 1944 could the International Red Cross get a food ship to relieve starving island­ers. Lib­er­ation fin­ally came when an Allied task force arrived on Guernsey in May 1945, and were greeted by crowds of joy­ous islanders. The islanders may have been British sub­jects but they had not been defend­ed, fed or rescued by their own nat­ion.


Author Juliet Ashton (Lily James) starred in this adaptation of a success­ful novel written by Mary Ann Shaffer and edited by Annie Bar­rows, The Guern­sey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. In 1946 Juliet and her publisher Sidney Starke (Matt­h­ew Goode) were attending a reading of her book. When she was not carrying out pro­m­­otional duties, Juliet spent most of her time at lavish parties and clubs with her charming American GI boyfriend Mark Reynolds (Glen Powell) and inspecting real estate with her publisher Sidney. Great post-war clothes and great parties.

Juliet and her American fiance' Mark.
At a jazz dance

In a flashback we saw a 1941 scene on the Guernsey cliffs where some fig­ures were drunkenly stumbling home in the dark, breaking the German cur­few. They had been feasting on roast pig hidden from the invaders, who had confiscated the British island’s livestock to feed the German sold­iers. Nazi soldiers and attack-dogs caught the drinkers! The quickest-thinking drinker, El­iz­abeth McKenna (Jessica Findlay), babbled about a literary society whose name was quickly invented by the Guernsey postmaster Eben Ramsay (Tom Court­enay), Amelia Maugery (Penelope Wilton) and her daughter Elizabeth McKenna

The film re-focused on London-based Juliet as she was suffering through a press tour across 1946 Britain, promoting her new book. Unexpectedly she re­c­eiv­ed a letter from an un­known Guernsey man, Dawsey Adams (Michiel Huis­man), request­ing the loc­ation of a London bookshop. Intrigued by his mess­age, including the existence of his book club, she wrote back.

Looking into one high-ceilinged flat, Juliet was terrified by a flashback to the bomb-ravaged home in which her parents had been killed (but this was unclear to me at the time). So when the letter arrived from Guernsey, she planned to leave London as soon as poss­ible. She accepted American Mark's marriage-proposal before sailing over the Channel, even though she believed in gender equality while Mark did not.

The film moved between wartime occupation (1941) and post-war lib­eration (1946), when the Guernsey book club was still going strong. In addition to Dawsey and Eben, the members now included Eben's grand­son, Eli (Kit Connor), who was sent to the mainland days before the Germans arrived and Isola Pribby (Katherine Parkin­son), a redhead fond of making and drinking her own gin. Most not­able was the older Amelia, whose ambivalent attitude toward Juliet was infl­uen­ced by the terrible grief over the death of a pregnant daught­er and the disappearance of Elizabeth. But where was Eliz­abeth and had she survived?

Isola, Eben, Eli, Amelia and Dawsey, meeting Juliet
at the Guernsey Literary Book Society.

Citizens on the mainland were just starting to recover from the misery of WW2. But the people of the Channel Islands had experienced far worse horrors during the war, horrors that main­landers couldn’t possibly have even known about.

So I felt that the recent German occupation of the Channel Islands was poorly investig­ated by the film. Not surprisingly Juliet had no idea why her religious landlady acc­used El­izabeth of being too “friendly” with the enemy. Nor did Juliet un­d­erstand why a nasty local collaborator like Eddie Meares (Andy Gather­good) was shun­ned by the islanders for his role in Elizab­eth’s disapp­earance. Jul­iet's need to find Elizabeth’s true story domin­ated the story; members of the book club members helped her.

I personally don’t think romance should have been the most impor­t­ant theme in the film. After all Juliet's ambivalent mental state was crystal clear, especially in London in which her nerves become jagged. Handsome Dawsey, on the other hand, needed do noth­ing more intellectual than breathe. 

Sidney Starke, Juliet's London publisher/best friend.

People who have ever been a member of a book club will appreciate how the love of literature can link people together, even improbable co-readers. Discussing literature in the Potato Peel Pie Society was both unconventional and entert­ain­ing. Juliet became so entranced with these islander that she didn’t want to go home.

21 April 2018

Celebrating the founding of Czechoslovakia 1918-2018

Independence came at the end of WWI when the Austro-Hungarian Emp­ire fell apart. It marked the first time since the Battle of White Mountain in 1620 that Bohemia was not under foreign rule. The First Republic was declared on 28th Oct 1918 when a Czech novelist read the independence proclamation of the sovereign state of Czech­osl­ovakia in the St Wenceslas Square. So the reading in the square was seen as the official start of the new country.

During the cele­brations in Nov 1918, a mob tore down a Victory Column on Old Town Square. It had been there since 1650 and celebrated a battle that occurred on Charles Bridge at the end of the Thirty Years’ War. Some said the column glorified the Hapsburg domination of the country.

This year locals and tourists are invited to comm­em­orate the est­ablishment of Czechoslovakia in 1918, following the end of WWI. To mark the 100th anniversary, hundreds of cul­t­ural, social and sport­ing events will take place throughout 2018 that high­light the First Republic Era i.e the inter-war years. As Czech Tourism detailed, the celebrations will be commemorated by all major Czech institutions, including church, army and cul­tural groups. And families. My husband left Prague in Dec 1951.

The National Technical Museum has an exhibition called Made in Czech­oslovakia 1918-92 – Industry That Conquered the World: Škoda and Tatra car companies, Bata footwear and traditional pro­ducers of glass and fashion jewellery. Visitors can also go on a tour of the original methods for brewing beer, noting that the Czechs drive more beer per head than any other nation in the world.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs examines the disintegration of the Austro-Hungarian empire & the post-war arrangement of Europe in a series of exhibitions, conferences & lectures.

Café Imperial, built in WW1, has luxurious Art Deco mosaic ceilings and ceramic wall tiling. 
Franz Kafka was a regular.
The Labyrinth of the Czech History is showing at the Imp­erial Stab­les. The exhibition shows documents and objects show­ing key mom­ents in Czech history from the medieval era eg Přemysl Otakar II’s funeral insignia, Golden Bull of Sicily granting royal rights to Bohemia, and documents relating Charles IV & Rud­olph II. [Em­peror Rudolph II was the thesis topic of a fell­ow st­ud­ent/close friend at Melb­ourne University, and the name of my beautiful black labrador].

Prague Cas­tle still funct­ions as the president's seat and state offices. The Prague Castle Riding School is showing The Elem­ents of State­hood until October i.e the history of state symbols. See the high­est state decorations awarded during the last 100 years, the presidential Škoda VOS car and prison letters from Mil­ada Horáková. The Castle Guard, which was also established at the same time as the new country, is showing photographs and objects from the hist­ory of this military unit. Its members included those who guarded Prague Castle, soon after independence was declared.

The National Museum, being renovated, will have a temporary exhib­ition, examining Jan Masaryk as a Phenomenon i.e first president of Czechoslovakia. The Old Town Hall is also undergoing extensive repairs and the Astronomical Clock is being rebuilt. All of the repairs to the clock and tower should be finished by July 2018.

Each October, lights dance across Prague’s architectural landscapes and glowing art installations line the streets for the Prague Sig­nal Festival. Recently the largely free outdoor exhibits have grown into the largest cultural event in the country, drawing 2+ million attendees. In 2018 a video mapping performance will ex­plore the ornate walls of Dvorak Hall inside the Rudolfinum. A live sym­ph­ony orchestra provides a soundtrack of Smetana, Dvorak and Tchaikovsky.

The Olomouc Museum of Modern Art is presenting artistic movements in Central Europe c1918-early 1920s, along with partners from Slov­ak­ia, Hungary and Poland. One section of the Alfons Mucha Museum, in the Kaunický Palace Prague, displays the artist’s relationship with his home city.

Prague Castle, Matthias Gate

The Czech Philharmonic Orchestra will celebrate with an open-air concert. It is performing concerts of Leoš Janeček’s opera, The Cunning Little Vixen and has an exhibition entitled Bedřich Smetana – My Homeland, in honour of the Czech composer. A special concert organised by Czech Radio will play the Czech and Slovak National Anthem, Sinfonietta by Leoš Janáček and Dvořák’s Symphony #9 . The opera house is still gorgeous.

There will be a grand military parade this year, like the 90th anniversary of Czechoslovak Independence. Back then, the parade on Evropská St in Prague 6 involved the Czech military along with Prague’s rescue services, police force, firefighters and paramedics. The 3 k parade featured 2,000+ people and 200 military vehicles, helicopters and airplanes.

Examine the architectural vis­ions of Adolf Loos, Josef Gočár and Jan Kotěra, or around the gall­eries of Alfons Mucha, František Kup­ka and Emil Fila. The architecture dur­ing the First Republic was attractive. In Brno a wealthy Jewish German-speaking couple Fritz and Greta Tugendhat built a new family home that became one of the most celebrated mas­t­­er­pieces of mod­ern­ism, Villa Tugendhat by sp­l­endid architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. The home was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list because of its unique int­er­iors, space, materials and unique technical gadgets.

The very expensive const­ruction of Villa Tugendhat was inconsp­ic­uous on the exterior and lux­ur­ious on the interior, as was typical for Mies van der Rohe. He created an open living area, wonderfully conn­ected with the garden via glass walls. The furniture was largely designed by Mies van den Rohe for the house, and although many items were lost, a few were later re­turned to family descendants. Thus many furniture pieces on the first and second floor are replicas.

Celebrate with Czech beer
next to Charles Bridge and the Vltava River

28th Oct, Independent Czechoslovak State Day, has long been a national holiday with yearly celebrations. Despite the separation of the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993, the date is still one of the most significant in both Czech and Slovak calendars. A joint project links the celebrations in the Czech and Slovak Republics. In Slovakia, visit the Slovak National Museum and the Slovak National Gallery.

17 April 2018

Sydney's first proper church, Rev Marsden & Grace Cossington Smith

I like Grace Cossington Smith’s art very much, but was surprised to see a historical scene, rather than her more usual images of contemporary life. More about her later.

Soon after the first load of convicts arrived at Sydney Cove in 1788, Gov Phillip travelled to the headwaters of Port Jackson. Finding good soil and fresh water there, he formed a settlement at Rose Hill and mapped out a town plan along the creek: Parramatta. There were soon 1000 people living in the district, minist­ered by the Rev Richard Johnstone once a fortnight.  A temporary church, formed out of two old huts, was opened at Parr­amatta in 1796. Services were first performed in it in Apr 1803, making this church is the oldest in the colony.

In Mar 1794 the Rev Samuel Marsden arrived from Britain and was appointed assistant to Rev Richard Johnson, stationed at Parram­at­ta. It was an import­ant centre in the colony and Marsden remained there for some years. He was promised the position of senior chap­lain in 1802, but was not properly paid and was not formally prom­oted until later. Still, Gov Lachlan Macquarie allowed him to live at Parramatta as being more convenient for carrying out his gen­eral superintend­ing duties, and named Marsden as the resident chaplain.

By 1802 the Rev Marsden had received hundreds of Parramatta-acres in grants, so Marsden quickly committed himself to farming. It brought financial security for a large family, and social accept­ability and power to which he could not have aspired at home. At the same time he was incited by the greedy temper of the colony; the off­icers had begun their single-minded pursuit of wealth.

Mar­s­den was appointed magistrate and superintendent of government affairs at Parramatta. His harshness can be attributed to his vig­orous morality, his loath­ing of sin and his view that Parramatta was an immoral cesspool; thus the most rigorous discip­linary measures were required. This flogging parson was of course loathed.
St John’s Church, Parramatta, originally opened 1803 and rebuilt after 1852
photo credit: Parramatta Heritage Centre

In 1799 he opened a Sunday school and progressed the building of a new church. The permanent St John’s Church (opened in 1803 but was still in­complete) had two brick towers, inspired by similar archit­ecture on Reculver’s Church in Kent. The towers were designed at the request of Mrs Macquaire, as Reculver’s was the last church she saw as she left the UK. Gov Macquarie asked his aide-de-camp to come up with designs (which can still be found in the Mit­chell Library Sydney today). 

Marsden took an active and well-public­ised interest in the creation of an orphan home and school. When he travelled back home in 1807-09, he was able to recruit additional assistant chaplains. Later he att­racted Mrs Eliz­abeth Fry by his zeal for improving the lot of female convicts on the transport ships and in the colony. The immorality and crime that prevailed in Parramatta, he thought, was largely due to the dilapidation of the Female Work Factory.

St John’s Parsonage Parramatta, was Francis Greenway’s  first major work as NSW’s Acting Civil Architect, the first house designed in the colony by a trained architect. The foundation-stone was laid by Marsden’s daughter in Apr 1816. Work was completed by Nov 1817, overseen by Rev Samuel Marsden who became the building’s first inhabitant.

Marsden died in 1838, was buried at St John's Parramatta and was replaced by his son­-in­-law. Later it was decided to pull down the old church so the original chapel was demolished in 1852 and rep­laced with a new sandstone nave built in Romanesque Revival style. The first building was removed except for the two towers and later, in 1883, the transepts were added.
Grace Cossington Smith
Samuel Marsden After Service at St John’s Church Parramatta
oil, 66 x 59 cm 

For Australian artist Grace Cossington Smith (1892–1984), her car­eer was boosted after de Maistre organised her first show in 1926. In fact Grace’s art started to sh­are many of the same tech­niques as Roy de Maistre's: criss-crossing lines that separ­ated planes of discrete colours, in sequence. In the decade from 1926 on, her potential as a painter of colour and light, structure and rhythmic pattern, emerged. 1938 was her most significant year with 1] the death of her fat­her, raising her position in the family; 2] modern­ist Thea Proctor highlighted her work in Art in Australia and c] Grace was included in a professional museum exhibition.

Shown at the Sydney’s Art Gallery of NSW, an ex­hibition called 150 Years of Australian Art was organised by the then-Dir­ector, Will Ashton. It celebrated was the Sesquicentenary of European settle­ment of Aus­tralia 1788–1938, a historical event which witnessed a round of special cel­e­brations. There was a major Comm­on­wealth Gov­ern­ment prize for the best oil painting depicting an aspect of Aust­ralia’s hist­ory. So as soon as she completed her painting in Jan 1938, Cossing­ton Smith ent­er­ed her painting, Samuel Marsden After Service at St John’s Church Parramatta.

Deutscher & Hackett's 2018 auction catalogue said Grace Cossington Smith’s highly personal choice of subject echoed her own life as a devout Anglican Christian. Marsden stood firmly at the centre of the image, the strong geometry of the composition led the eye towards him and then to the church which he was so instrumental in founding. Uniformed figures in the distance, and the small child to the right of Mars­d­en, symbolised the development of the settlement from a penal colony to a place where the growing free population, gat­h­ered together for regular worship. This celebratory picture was infus­ed with a deeply personal spiritual values, and displayed Coss­ing­ton Smith’s belief that painting exp­resses form in colour vibrant with light.